For his “live documentary” The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, filmmaker Sam Green—best known for his Academy Award-nominated documentary about some other, very different, utopians, The Weather Underground—has chosen a worthy, fascinating subject. Fuller—for those who aren't already among his cultish following—was a designer, philosopher and public intellectual now most famous for inventing the geodesic dome (see: Epcot Center's “Spaceship Earth”). He was either a genius, or an eccentric or an eccentric genius, depending on whom you ask, but no one can say he wasn't decades ahead of his time, or that his ideas (if only through his tireless dissemination of them) haven't left their mark on our world.
Unfortunately, Green's so-called documentary—it's a Powerpoint presentation, and Green would do well to cut the bullshit and just call it that—leaves much to be desired with respect to edifying its audience about this complex personage. As somebody who went into the show knowing little to nothing about Fuller, I came out of it with gaping holes in my understanding of him. What, for instance, was the thinking behind Fuller's three-wheeled, futuristic-looking “Dymaxion” car? What was his education, that he was so knowledgeable in so many different disciplines? What motivated the man behind the Coke-bottle glasses; what transpired beneath that bald, shiny skull? I know, all too well, what the interior of the geodesic dome at Expo '67 looked like, but I don't know the answers to those questions. That's problematic.
Still, with Love Song, Green has painted an affectionate portrait of Fuller. And he has gotten across Fuller's thesis statement, more relevant today then ever: Through making stuff more efficiently, humankind can greatly reduce scarcity, want and war. Green has also obviously spent way too much time in Fuller's archives at Stanford University, whence he's dug up some real film-footage treasure: a geodesic dome being airlifted by helicopter from a Naval-looking ship to the middle of a field, a Dymaxion car putt-putting around a city with Age of Reason optimism, Fuller holding babies and shooting the breeze with “members of the hippie community” in Golden Gate Park. It's this manifestly beautiful footage, scored live by Yo La Tengo, that forms the artistic core of Green's piece.
A final word on that live Yo La Tengo score: It's a fine composition, at turns futuristic, spaced-out and childlike (like Fuller himself, come to think of it). But the fact that a beloved classic indie band performs it is entirely irrelevant. Considering that if it weren't for Yo La Tengo's billing, pretty much only Bucky fanatics would have been in the audience, one can't help but feel like the band was included in the show more for marketing purposes than for artistic ones. Live music's always nice, but just soundtracking the presentation with the band's composition would have kept the show more focused, rightly, on Green's work and its subject.